From the Beginning of Creation, the Lord God Made Them to Be of One Flesh with Himself
There is finally one Marriage, one Husband and one Wife.
There is the one Man, Jesus Christ — and one Woman, made for Him, to be a suitable companion for Him, corresponding to Him in every way.
He is faithful in caring for His Bride, and giving life to her, with His own Body and Life, with His own flesh and blood: By His Cross and Passion, and in His bodily Resurrection from the dead; from His wounded side, in the water and the blood, in the font and chalice of salvation.
By these means of grace, God the Father has made of you a member of the Bride of Christ, and He has brought you to Him, and given you to Him.
Therefore, you are called to be faithful to your Husband and your Head, that is, to Christ Jesus, within your own particular place and station in life (whatever that might be). For you have been named with His Name; and you have been joined together with Him, united with Him, as one flesh and blood with Him.
You derive your life from Him, and you are called to live unto Him in righteousness and purity forever. Not that you must earn your keep, or pull your own weight, or make a life for yourself, but that you would receive your entire life from Him, and so live in Christ your Lord, by His grace, to the glory of His holy Name.
What that looks like in holy marriage here on earth is faithfulness and love in the lifelong union of one man and one woman, the male and the female, even unto death: The husband giving himself and laying down his life for his wife, that she might have life; and the wife submitting herself to her husband in love, in the faith and confidence of Christ.
The intimate union of male and female as one flesh, the intimacy of heart and mind, body and soul, belongs to this lifelong bond and commitment of marriage, because it confesses Christ and His Church, and thereby declares the Gospel and the grace of God. It is to be a bond of faithfulness and loving devotion, because Christ is faithful and devoted in His perfect love for you.
Casual “hook-ups,” temporary and conditional “shack-up” arrangements, perversions of sexuality, and all manner of unfaithfulness, including the breaking of the marriage bond by legal divorce, all confess a false “christ” and a false “gospel,” which do not give life but rob it and destroy it.
Indeed, any and all attempts to engage in sexual intimacy outside of marriage, which is to say, outside of Christ and apart from His Word, are not only sinful and unclean, but dangerous, deadly, and doomed to fail.
Of course, the “one flesh” union of husband and wife is also abused and broken within marriage, when spouses do not love and care for each other, but hurt or neglect each other, and turn away from each other, and fend for themselves in competition with each other.
Simply living together in the same house, even sleeping together in the same bed, is not yet, by itself, the intimate communion of heart and mind, body and soul, that characterizes and confesses Christ and His Bride, the Church.
Sadly, one doesn’t have to look far or dig too deep to discover the brokenness, disappointments, failures, and hurts of human marriages.
On top of which are all the brokenness, disappointments, failures and hurts, of those who have longed to be married, or to be given in marriage, but who have no husband or wife to have and to hold, to love and to cherish.
It makes all the talk of holy marriage seem idealistic and naive.
And because of your hardness of heart, even holy Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send a wife away.
However, this permission, which God allowed through Moses, should not be interpreted as acceptance or approval. It is, rather, an acknowledgment of failure, an accommodation for the sake of avoiding even greater wickedness and further hurt. But none of this is “good.” From the beginning, Jesus says, this is not what God intended. Elsewhere, the Lord clearly declares that He hates divorce, which is so contrary to His love, and so antithetical to His Gospel.
But the Lord God knows your frame, that you are mortal. He knows that your flesh and blood are full of sin and death. He knows the hardness of your heart, and of your head. He knows that you are prone to selfishness, to look after yourself at all costs, instead of trusting Him, obeying His voice, and loving your neighbor as you ought. He knows that you are likely to lash out in violence if you are backed into a corner and put on the defensive. And He knows that you still have much to learn, and a great deal of maturing to do, before you will grow into the fullness of the stature of Him who is your Head.
It is also a fact that genuine love, such as holy marriage properly requires, cannot be achieved or obtained by the force of the Law. Demands and threats and punishments will not bring about the self-giving and self-sacrificing love that belongs to real intimacy. Your actions can and should be disciplined. Behavior can and should be curbed and moderated, for the good of your neighbor. But outward regulations and controls will not change your heart.
So it is that God permits divorce, as a tragic last resort, lest even greater tragedy unfold: lest husbands and wives resort to violence and murder. So might a parent separate his warring children from each other, for a time, rather than risk trying to force them to get along with each other.
It is not a matter of condoning sin or rewarding stubbornness, but a case of taking sin seriously and choosing the lesser of evils, while working to rescue the children from every evil of body and soul.
Therefore, the Lord your God is patient with you, long-suffering, and slow to anger. He does not punish you, as your sin deserves, but He bears with you in love, and with mercy, while He deals with you and disciplines you, as a Father cares for His own dear children.
It is more than immaturity and ignorance at work in your hardness of heart; it is sin and death having their way with you, wrecking havoc with your neighbors and with all of your relationships. But in this respect, it is not unlike that “childish behavior” of which I spoke last week — in contrast to childlike faith. The hardness of your sinful heart is evident, for example, in the pout and stomping foot and rebellious “no” and temper tantrum of the toddler. The toddler must grow up, and so must the Christian also learn to live in faith toward God and in love for the neighbor.
The Law exposes your sin, your hardness of heart, your wickedness, your nakedness and shame. But you learn and grow by repentance, and by faith in Christ, because holy love and holy marriage are found, not in you, but in Him, in His faithfulness, and in His sacrifice for the sake of sinners.
It is not just the “good” little boys and girls that He takes up in His arms and blesses, but He gathers to Himself the colicky infants, the tyrannical toddlers, the spoiled brats, the moody and distant teens, the dead-beat twenty-somethings, and the childish adults who still resort to pouting and stomping and hollering “no.” He calls them to repentance, to be sure. Their sins, and all of your sins, are not good. But so does He also lay His hand on you in Holy Absolution.
And He does not cast you away from His presence. He does not send you away.
What He permits men to do, because of their hard hearts, He Himself does not do. He does not divorce His wife, but He wins her back, and woos her to Himself in love, and reconciles her to Himself in the tender mercy of His forgiveness. He does not consider or count her trespasses against her, but bears her burdens and her weakness in Himself. He covers her guilt and shame, and clothes her with His own honor, with His own righteousness and holiness.
He does all of this for you, in making you a member of His Body and His Bride, the Church. This is not idealistic or naive, but this is holy marriage, which is the Love of God in Christ Jesus, your Savior. He is faithful in giving Himself for you, that you might be His own, to have and to hold forever. Even death shall not separate you from Him.
This is where and how you get your bearings and take your cues, whether in your life on earth you are married or unmarried, widowed or divorced. For you belong to Jesus Christ, the heavenly Bridegroom, and so you bear His Name in whatever else you are called to do and given to do. Both marriage and celibacy, here in time, point beyond themselves to the one Marriage of that one Man and His Holy Bride, which is forever and ever.
It is His Cross which sanctifies the crosses that you bear, whether of your spouse and marriage or your celibacy and loneliness. It is the sacrifice of His Cross that forgives you, redeems you, and saves you from all of your unfaithfulness, from your lust, your fornication and adultery, and from your coldness and hardness of heart.
For He has made Himself to be like you, bone of your bone, flesh of your flesh, and blood of your blood. He was born of the Woman, that you might be conceived and born of God, by the washing of water with His Word and Holy Spirit. Therein you are cleansed and sanctified, and clothed in the beautiful white wedding garments of Christ Jesus. Having no sins of His own, no flaw or blemish, no spot or wrinkle, He has bestowed on you His innocence, and has taken upon Himself your sin and death. He has borne your temptations and suffered all your sorrows, in order to become your merciful and faithful High Priest, in order to bring you into life with God.
This is what it means for Him to be your Husband, your heavenly Bridegroom. And this is what it means for you to be His Bride. He is perfected in this vocation through suffering, by His Cross and Passion, so that you are perfected and glorified in Him, in His Resurrection from the dead. In His sleeping — the deep sleep of death upon the Cross and in the dust of the earth — you have been taken from His side, and formed in His Image, in the waters of your Baptism, and in the holy and precious Blood of His Chalice.
Thus are you given to Him in holy marriage, here at His Altar. And thus does He take you into His arms and bless you, for now and for ever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A sword in the hat is better than a foot in your mouth. All the better if it is that double-bladed sword that slices and dices between bone and marrow. But I have always liked to sort things out by thinking out loud with friends and colleagues. And since my opportunities to do so are limited, I figure I can multiply my thinking and sorting here.
Married 31 years, my wife and I have had ten children born to us (six boys, four girls); we have another son and daughter by marriage (and will soon have another daughter by marriage), a son who went ahead of us to heaven from the womb, six grandchildren and counting. I was ordained in 1996, and have been the pastor of Emmaus since then. I have a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies from the University of Notre Dame (2003), and an S.T.M. from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana